Prairie du Pont Precinct, St. Clair County, Illinois

The St. Clair County Courthouse
completed in 1861

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Much information in this history is factual as recalled by people living at that time. However, memories are not perfect, and all researchers are urged to verify the people, relationships, places, and events mentioned below with civil, governmental, private, and religious documents written more closely to the actual fact stated. Many of these original record groups are identified and located in St. Clair County Research and Resources, available from the Society.

Prairie du Pont Precinct

Scanned and proofread from pages 296–298 of St. Clair County History, (Philadelphia: Brink, McDonough, and Company, 1881). This history does have some errors in it so it is prudent to confirm the statements below with other sources closer to the actual event. Any additions by the webmaster within the text are surrounded by [brackets]. Footnotes have been added, and appear at the end of the sketch. Photocopies may be obtained from the Belleville Public Library for a small fee.

Precincts were those areas of the county that later became townships in 1884. Precincts defined the boundaries of polling districts for local and state elections. Justices of the Peace were elected for each precinct and carried out some civil legal functions. For example, a Justice of the Peace could peform a marriage and hear legal disputes between two parties. While all marriages were to be recorded at the county level, the J.P. was only required to keep a docket of minor civil disputes, not a full record of the proceedings. Very few dockets survive to this day.


PRAIRIE DU PONT was, until 1871, a part of Cahokia, but at that time the county commissioners cut it off into a separate precinct. It is nearly enclosed within the boundaries of Cahokia outlined on the east, and the Mississippi on the west. Monroe county and Centerville precinct bound a small portion of the southern border. It is the extreme western point of St. Clair county, and contains about 15,000 acres. It is wholly situated in the Bottom, extending from the river to the bluff. It received its name from the ancient village which is situated in this precinct. The soil is the same as the rest of the American Bottom, unexcelled for fertility and productiveness. It is drained by Prairie du Pont creek, which enters the extreme eastern portion of the precinct, and flows west and south, when it empties into the Missi sippi a little south and west of East Carondelet. The southern portion of the precinct is drained by the "big ditch," or canal, that extends from Bluff and Fish lakes to the river.

The East St. Louis & East Carondelet, or, what is better known, as the Conlogue Railway, and the Narrow Gauge road, pass through the precinct on the west side from north to south. The Conlogue has a branch track extending south-east across the precinct to the quarries, situated at Falling Spring.

The general history, customs, etc., of the people of Prairie du Pont, are similar to those of Cahokia. They have their commonfields, containing their farms or arpents of land, and adjacent to these the open territory, called commons. The arpents, with few exceptions, extended from the river to the bluff. In early times, spring wheat was the principal product, but, for many years, fall or winter wheat has been the staple. The main history of this precinct lies in

THE VILLAGE OF PRAIRIE DU PONT.

The village received its name from the following circumstance: The first settlement was made on the present site, which is on the south bank of the creek, and about one mile south of the village of Cahokia. At this point a rude bridge, constructed of logs, was built across the stream. An open prairie extended from the bridge south to the bluff. Pont is a French word, and means bridge in English. Hence the name, Prairie du Pont, or, Prairie Bridge. It was settled about 1750, by people from Cahokia. The origin of its settlement is undoubtedly due to the inundations to which the bottom was subject during high waters. Prairie du Pont is about ten or twelve feet higher than Cahokia, and in the time of the floods, the people of the Latter village were obliged to flee to the bluffs and higher grounds for safety. Tradition, in Prairie du Pont, substantiates the above theory.

According to Reynolds, the village contained fourteen families in 1765. Among the early settlers was Jean Francois Perry, who was a native of France, and emigrated to this country in 1792. He was a classical scholar, and was a descendant of one of the first families in France. He and a Frenchman by the name of Claudius, first established themselves as partners in a small store in Cahokia, but soon after removed to Prairie du Pont, where they continued in the mercantile business. Claudius was killed a few years afterwards by being thrown from a horse. Perry continued the business, also purchased the old mill site on the creek, where the Mission of St. Sulpice first erected a mill. Here he built a new mill of considerable pretensions for those days, and conducted it in conjuction with his store until his death, which occurred in 1812. He amassed quite a fortune, and died regretted by all who knew him.

Philip Creamer, a native of Maryland, came to the American Bottom in 1805, and settled a little east of the village. He was skilled in mechanics, but his special forte was the manufacture of fire-arms. He was employed by the government in 1812, to make and repair the guns of the troops stationed on the frontier. He lived to an old age, and died about 1845. J. B. Chartrand, John Baptiste Allary and Joseph Deloge, were also pioneers of the village.

The First Water Mill erected in this part of the country, was built on the creek, close to the village, by the Mission of St. Sulpice, in the year 1754 or '55. This mill really formed the nucleus from which Prairie du Pont finally developed.

The oldest house now standing in the village, is owned by John B. Lapage, and is situated on lot No. 58. It is a small, one story log house, and was one of the first built in the village. A red cedar, two feet in diameter, and about thirty in height, stands in the rear of the house, and ante-dates the building. Locust trees, three feet in diameter, also adorn the premises.

The First School taught in Prairie du Pont was in 1861, by Wm. Williamson; and the school-house was erected the same year, at a cost of $500. It is a small frame building, 18x30 feet, and is supplied with the improved style of furniture. The village was incorporated for school purposes by an act of the legislature February 20, 1847; but no school was taught for twenty years, for the reason that the revenue from the leases of the commons was not able to support one. By an act of the legislature of 1875, the commisioner of the commons is authorized to convey the lands of the

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commons, in fee simple, and place the proceeds at interest. The principal is to be perpetual, while the interest is to be devoted entirely to a common school fund for the use of the villagers.

The first and only justice of the peace in the precinct, or village, was J. B. Vien, who at this writing is serving. in the same office. He was elected in 1869, and has served now twelve years. Mr. Vien informed us that in all that time he had not issued to exceed half-a-dozen warrants against the native French citizens of Prairie du Pont.

One of the oldest roads in the state of Illinois passes through the village, being the old highway between Kaskaskia and Cahokia.

There are standing in the village four pear-trees, the largest of which is upwards of three feet in diameter at the base. It is said that they are as old as the village, and are still in good bearing order. The largest has borne as high as sixty bushel of fruit in one year. The casual observer, in passing Mr. Peter Goding's premises, where these trees are situated, would at once conclude they were forest trees. The writer was shown an elm that took root and grew under the following circumstances: On lot No. 14, many years ago, a log house was built, which had for a chimney one of the old-fashioned mud and stick contrivances, which was constructed entirely on the exterior of the building. In order to keep this ungainly flue from toppling over, green elm poles were thrust into the ground at the corners of the chimney. One of these, from the fresh buds of the stick, took root, lived and grew, and is at this writing five feet in diameter. Esquire Vien has in his possession what is undoubtedly the stump of the flag-pole that floated to the breeze the French flag when Prairie du Pont was under the dominion of France. It was excavated on the ground where the old fort stood, on a rise overlooking the creek. The stump is of red cedar, about six inches in diameter, and in a good state of preservation.

In the south-western part of the precinct there are several Indian mounds. In 1874 John Eisentrout, when plowing over one of these, near Falling Spring, struck a pile of stones, and on excavating, came across a peculiar relic. It is constructed of a hard cement, and is about eighteen inches in height. The upper portion represents the head of a baboon, and the body or base is in the form of an ordinary bust. The vessel is hollow, with an aperture at the top the size of a silver dollar. It is supposed to have been constructed for a drinking jug in the days of of [sic]the mound-builders. A photograph of it was put on exhibition at the Centennial in Philadelphia in 1876. The relic is now in the possession of a party at Belleville.

Within the memory of the oldest inhabitant the village of Prairie du Pont never had a resident physician or lawyer, nor has it contained a post-office. It now comprises about fifty inhabitants--one­fifth colored population. The present business-

Groceries, Provisions and Saloon, Peter Godin;

Justices of the Peace, J. B. Vien;

Treasurer and ex-officio- Commissioner, Peter Godin;

Trustees, John Touranjon, J. B. Lapage and Joseph Chartrand.

EAST CARONDELET.

The village of East Carondelet is situated in the central western part of Prairie du Pont precinct, on the line of the narrow guage [sic] and the East St. Louis and East Carondelet railoads [sic], and about a quarter of a mile east of the Mississippi. The plat is in the form of a rectangle, and lies on both sides of Prairie du Pont creek. It was established on the Prairie du Pont common fields, in the year 1872, Andrew Donnan platted the first village lots. The same year (1872) two additions were made to the town, one by Donnan and Henderson, the other by Christian Keoln. In 1876 another addition was made by Frank Ricker.

The first house was built by J. L. Strider in 1872. It was a frame building, story and a half, and used for a dwelling. The first store was kept by Messrs. Green & Jackson, and was situated on State Avenue, south-east of the Narrow Gauge railroad. L. G. Cross was the first to establish a wagon manufactory and blacksmith shop. It was built in 1873, and is situated on State street, near Prairie du Pont creek. Mr. Cross is still doing business on the old site. The first hotel was built by Volantine Eustch, in 1872, and was conducted by him with satisfaction to the public until 1875, when it was destroyed by fire. F. S. Mack & Co. erected the first flouring mill in 1876. It was a steam mill, four story frame with stone foundation, and cost $10,000. It had three run of burrs, and a capacity for grinding seventy-five barrels per day. It was situated on State avenue, near the Narrow Gauge railroad depot, and was destroyed by fire in 1880. The first post­office was kept by S. H. Parker, in the Narrow Gauge railroad depot. The first church was built by the Catholics in 1873. It was a frame building, 40x60, and cost $3000. It was completely destroyed by a wind storm, which occurred in 1876. The school­house was built in 1876, at a cost of upwards of $1200. It is a frame house, and seated with the latest improved furniture. Prior to the building of this house, the school was taught in the colored log church, north of the creek, not far from the Conlogue railroad; J. W. McCormic was the first teacher. James N. Carlton was elected first Justice of the Peace, and heard his first case in the. depot of the Narrow Gauge railway.

MEIER & CO.’S BLAST FURNACES.

The village of East Carondelet can boast of one of the largest and most complete Blast Furnaces in the West, and is owned by Meier & Co. of St. Louis. It is situated a little north of the village, and occupies one hundred acres of ground, including buildings, railway, and switches. The works contain three engines of one hundred tons weight each; two furnaces with four large Whitehall hot-air blasts to each furnace. The chimney is two hundred and three and a half feet high, and is said to be the tallest chimney in the United States. It is twenty-eight feet in diameter at the base, and octagonal in in form to the height of about twenty-five feet, where it assumes a rotund shape, and gently tapers to the summit. It took nearly one million bricks to complete it. The works cost upwards of two million dollars, and give employment to more than three hundred hands. Several car-loads of pigs are cast daily, and, shipped to St. Louis and other cities. The company has constructed its own stock railroads to connect the works with the Mississippi river, on the one side, and the C. & St. L. Narrow Gauge, and the E. St. L. & E. Carondelet railways on the other. SMITH'S ICE HOUSES. These houses were constructed in 1880-1, and are situated on the river bank, about half a mile north-west of the village. The building is one hundred and sixty feet square, covered with a double roof, and is thirty-six feet in height. It cost $25,000, and will hold twenty-five thousand tons of ice.

PRESENT BUSINESS.

General Merchandise.-Michael & Son; Henry Sopp.

Clothing.-Victor Sherman.

Bakery-A.. Wenkler.

Merchant Tailor-A. S. Jordi.

Wagon Maker and Blacksmith-L. G. Cross.

Butcher-Fred Schwartztrauber.

Physician-Dr. W. M. Carter.

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Besides the above, there is a boarding house and seven saloons. The village was incorporated in 1876, and the following are the first officers elected :-President-Walter Murray; Trustees-.J. C. Sinclair, S. H. Parker, E. D. Ankeny, J. J. Schumaker, and John Ortgier. Thomas Jamison was appointed clerk. .The present officers are-L. G. Cross, pres.; Fred Luce, John Simons, A. Murphy, S. H. Parker, and John Schumaker, trustees. J. W. McCormic, clerk and police magistrate, and Samuel McGregor, marshal.

The present population of the village is about 400, and bids fair some day to be one among the busy towns that shall dot the banks of the Misssissippi.

FALLING SPRING.

This is one of the romantic spots in Illinois. It is situated at the bluff, one mile south-east of Prairie du Pont village. It derives its name from a spring that gushes out of a perpendicular rock of the bluff, with a fall of sixty or seventy feet. The bluff at this point is a solid wall of limestone, about one hundred and thirty feet in height. The spring flows from an orifice situated midway between the top of the bluff and the rocky bottom beneath. Many years ago a grist mill was constructed at this point, and the water utilized for a power, but no trace of it remains at this time to be seen. Several years ago a hotel was built near the spring, and the place was made a summer resort by the people of East St. Louis and other towns. The hotel is yet standing, and is now converted into a saloon. There are three stone quarries [emphasis added] in full blast not far from the spring, and owned by the following companies :-Otto & Parent, William Richards, and Henry Deering. They employ in all about seventy-five men, and load on an average twenty cars per day. A branch of the Conlogue railway runs to the quarries. A stone-crusher dump is in process of erection here by the Vandalia railroad company. We were informed by the foreman that it would take about 200,000 feet of lumber to construct it, and will cost, including machinery, upwards of $50,000. When in running order it will employ about fifty hands, and will have the capacity to crush fifty car-loads of stone per day. Although there is no town here-nothing but boarding houses for the men-yet it presents the appearance of life and business.

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